Advice for Young Writers:
Writing for a Living
By Elizabeth Chayne
Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Chayne, All Rights Reserved
If you consider yourself a
writer, chances are that at some point in your writing life, you’ve
thought about being a writer. To be precise, you’ve though about writing
for a living.
The fantasy many people have
when they consider writing for a living goes something like this:
-You wake up at one
pm and head out to get some late breakfast.
-You attend a book
signing and get photographs taken for a magazine.
-You write for a
couple of hours.
-You hang out at the
nearest nightclub and get to rub shoulders with the hottest
names of the moment.
Nice daydream, isn’t it? The
reality is that, unless you’re exceptionally lucky and work
exceptionally hard, your life as a writer won’t go like that at all. In
fact, chances are good that your life will be nothing like the above.
Many teenagers hear me
talking about how a writer usually has at least one other job, and
they’re shocked. “You mean writing full time still won’t be enough to
pay my bills?”
Sorry to break it to you,
Can you make a living as a
writer? Perhaps. Here’s an experiment to try.
For the next week, jot down
the money you spend in a little notebook. Include food money, bus money,
gas for your car, and those new boots you bought. All the money you
spend on everything during the course of the week. This is your weekly
Multiply the total amount by
four. This is your monthly spending amount. I’m not saying that you’ll
buy four pairs of boots in the same month, but this is only a rough
estimate of what you’ll be using every month.
Ask around and see how much
rent per month is in your neighborhood. If you’re a college student,
calculate how much you pay for your dorm per month.
Add this to your monthly
spending. This is how much you’ll need to survive every month.
If you’ve written for paying
markets before, figure out how many stories, articles or essays you need
to write every month to get the total amount you’ve worked out. If
you’ve never written for paying markets before, go online and look at
some submission guidelines to get a vague idea of how much writing you
need to do every month.
Hopefully what you’re
thinking now is“Wow, this looks easy” and not ‘Wow, no wonder writers
usually have one other job”!
Set a goal for yourself that
by a certain date, you’ll be earning at least your total living expenses
per month. Don’t set next month or two months from now as your goal.
That would be too hard if you’ve never written for paying markets
before. Six months to a year is a good place to start.
If your talents are more of
the novel variety than the short essay variety, then again go online to
find out the average advance a novel of your genre gets. Divide that by
twelve and see if it covers your living expenses. If it does, ask
yourself if it’s possible for you to complete one novel per year. At the
same time, keep in mind that just being able to write a novel in a year
does not mean that you’ll be able to get the advance every year. What if
the novel you worked a whole year on doesn’t get accepted? It happens
more frequently than you think.
But after so much talk of
how writers don’t make it, here’s some hope to go on. There are writers
who do make it. You see them on TV and in the news all the time.
There are writers who make the New York Times Bestseller list, and ones
who can live quite comfortably on their income. You might be one of them
in the near future.
A Forum for teen writers.